This production – a first by BIGHEAD theatre company – is a surreal play on the classic eponymous character – perhaps presenting a few issues already if you don’t know your Shakespeare. After a slightly confusing first ten minutes, we eventually surmise the premise: four young adults conspire to assassinate the fictional Duchess of Chelsea. For some it is a political act, for one an ill-conceived romantic gesture, and for another a self-affirming display of ego.
These bizarre and sometimes dubitable motives capture the odd nature of the entire play. The characters, usually with effective humour, pontificate on their decision for inordinate amounts of time and even the intended murder weapons garner laughs through misuse. The surreal nature of it all doesn’t always work, though. In fact, it isn’t clear how intentional the absurdism is, since some weighty soliloquys and Shakespearean references to power and murder interfere and attempt something more serious.
The production’s strengths, then, are in its comedy, with two or three perfectly-executed one-liners that have the audience cackling. The clownish Horatio steals scenes with his bumbling confusions and all of the actors’ comic timing generally works. There are also moments in the play’s second half that do successfully address the notions of martyrdom, responsibility and sacrifice. However, although each performer is skilled, at times there could be a little more conviction and force. The script’s pace also lags in places.
Macbeth Kills the Duchess provides decent laughs and an interesting concept. Some areas feel like they need a little tightening, though, in order for it to fully realise its intentions. Nonetheless, it’s a satisfying debut production.